Plus One(7)

By: Aleatha Romig

“You don’t need to tell me any of that.”

His cheeks rise as his smile grows. “I didn’t. I wanted to. You’re HR. I didn’t want you to think less of Jennifer. She’s a valuable employee.”

He does know my title.

I look beyond his broad shoulder. “Is she waiting for you?”

“No. After the dinner and proposal, she went home… to her fiancé,” he adds.

A twinge of guilt pierces through the childish butterflies, maybe even a hint of shame for assuming the worst of Jennifer and her willingness to climb the corporate ladder.

“Sir,” the bartender asks, appearing before us, “may I get you a drink?”

Mr. Willis turns toward me. “Are you staying?”

“I’m just getting my head clear before heading home.”

“Highland Park, neat,” Mr. Willis says.

“Yes, sir. Coming right up.”

I take a deep breath, trying to ignore the masculine scent that has settled around us in an intoxicating cloud. The longer I’m near it, the more I wonder if its aroma could be more intoxicating than the wine. Clearing my head in his proximity isn’t easy.

“Scotch man?” I ask.

“Yes. You know your scotch.”

I shrug. “Not really.”

He grins, nodding toward my glass. “I see you take your water on the rocks. Or do you really like vodka?”

“Only water. You know, living dangerously? With your recent order, I suspect that clearing your head isn’t on your agenda?”

Mr. Willis laughs. “I’m not driving.”

“Neither am I, but you know how the subways can be.”

His eyes widened. “What? You’re not taking the subway at this hour by yourself. Where is your friend, the one with you at dinner?”

“I am taking the subway,” I say, determined. “It’s how I get home—really how I get anywhere. And she’s my roommate, or soon I can say that she used to be.”

My fingers run over the smooth rim of my glass as I pour out my lonely story to my boss, to the man who before tonight, I’d never said anything to that wasn’t business related. As time goes by, I tell him about Shana, how we met, and how she’s been the perfect roommate. I even divulge that when I applied for the job with Buchanan and Willis, I’d never been to New York. I just wanted to see more of the world.

I blame my long-winded response on the wine and his magical cologne. I’m not thinking straight, yet as I talk, so does he. He asks questions like he’s really listening to my words and my dreams. With each phrase or statement, his deep voice sends shockwaves to my core, but more than that, to my heart.

His glass is almost empty, and most of my ice is melted.

I stand and reach for my purse. “I’m sorry I’ve bored you with all that. The truth is that I’m happy for Shana. I am. This promotion is her dream.”

Mr. Willis reaches toward me, touching my arm. The same energy from earlier, that connection at the table, zaps through me, stopping my retreat. “What is your dream?” he asks.

For the first time since learning of Shana’s promotion, I remember why I came to New York. “This may sound funny,” I say, “or like I’m buttering up the boss, but I’m living it.” I gesture about the bar and toward the plastic barriers. The lights of Manhattan glow and twinkle beyond the transparent barrier. “This is it. What I always dreamed of doing.”

“Please don’t take the subway,” Mr. Willis pleads. “I have a driver waiting for my text.”

“That’s not necessary. The subway is part of my dream.”

Mr. Willis shakes his head. “Miss Jones, I admire you.”

“Me? Why?”

“I admire people who know what they want and take it, even when an easier solution is right in front of them.”

I tilt my head to the side. “Sometimes… the easy way doesn’t have the same destination.”

“You’re saying that to fulfill a dream, you have to work hard, not take the easy road?”

“I think I’m saying, easiest isn’t always best. Thank you, Mr. Willis, for taking the time to listen. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I DON’T SEE Mr. Willis the next day or at all the rest of the week. I even avoid talking to my mother. We shared a few quick texts. She told me the wedding is rapidly approaching. It’s this coming Saturday. And even though she’s asked more than once for Timothy’s tux size, I haven’t yet had the courage to tell her about his dramatic fall from the Empire State Building observation deck. Although the story makes me chuckle, I’m concerned that she’ll be able to fact-check me on that one. I give more thought to the taxi story.